Richard Brown is the curator with the Flint RiverQuarium.
Throughout his life, Richard Brown has slung papers, slung pottery and now slings fish food — among other things — at Flint RiverQuarium.
The 58-year-old curator at Flint RiverQuarium got his start in Oklahoma and has found himself in Albany maintaining and managing the Riverquarium’s formidable collection of avian and aquatic life.
In a recent interview with Herald reporter J.D. Sumner in front of the RiverQuarium’s signature “Blue Hole” exhibit, Brown talks about his job, his life and what it takes to manage such a wide variety of species.
Q: What was your first job?
A: Well, my first job was as a paper boy at Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla. So I’ve come a long way since then. My first job in the field, I was an algae tech for Texas A&M mariculture station in Galveston. My first job as an aquarist was at the Houston Zoo aquarium. I was there for two years and after that I was at the Sea World of Orlando in the aquarium department there for 17 years taking care of everything from goldfish to octopus to sharks and so you name it, I’ve taken care of it. It’s been a great, great time. Now I’ve been here at the Flint RiverQuarium for the last nine years so I was here when we first started in 2004 and helped add the aviary on. Taking care of birds was something I never really counted on but it’s been a great pleasure and a lot more fun that I anticipated.
NAME: Richard Brown
JOB: Curator, Flint RiverQuarium
PERSONAL: He’s married with three dogs
Q: What did you buy with your first paycheck?
A: I don’t really remember that. I remember I used to buy a lot of comic books back then but I didn’t have much in the way of expenses so I was probably buying a lot of candy and comic books at the time. I do remember that one year we got a prize for ... going out canvassing trying to get more subscribers and I got a turkey for Christmas for the family and that was kind of cool. I enjoyed that.
Q: What is the most challenging and the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The most challenging part has been the fact that this particular system, the Blue Hole, is unique in that it is open to the elements so that leaves you some opportunities for predators to come in and eat your fish like the Great Blue Heron and Egrets. We have seen them picking off a few of our pride and also there is potential for disease to get spread in the Blue Hole so we have to be on the watch out for that as well. Things that I really like is that I like having my arms up to the elbows in the water taking care of aquariums. I like cleaning algae and cleaning and scrubbing the aquariums and vacuuming them out; just the basic stuff that goes with keeping and maintaining an aquarium.
Q: If you were stranded on an island, what three items would you most like to have?
A: A Leatherman tool comes in handy because you can do a lot of things with it. And probably if I was on an island I would need a fishhook and maybe some line. Does that take up all three of them? Because I think you’d also need something to start a fire with. I’m not real good with rubbing sticks together so I might need some flint and something to strike some tinder with.
Q: If you could go back in time and give some advice to a younger version of yourself, what would it be?
A: One thing I’d tell myself would be not to worry so much. Because in this position you worry about the animals, you worry about the people, you worry about how they interact and it can take away the fun if you’re not really careful. I just tell myself that everything’s going to be OK, just keep working hard and you’ll get there.
Q: What do you like doing in your free time?
A: You know I like being around the water. Amazingly enough, I’m not a fisherman. I like being out in nature and sometimes my wife and I will canoe down the Flint or the Kinchafoonee or something like that. We have three dogs. We like walking the dogs and taking them around and just relaxing mostly. Because I get a lot of hands-on interaction with these animals in the water, I scuba dive in here all the time so when I get home I’m pretty tired so I like a lot of relaxing.
Q: What’s your favorite office-related gadget?
A: Believe it or not, I use the computer even though we’re working with the fish all the time. You have the aquatic info service; you have to keep up with the trade and find out what other people are doing and how they’re handling certain diseases with the fish and what they’re doing to be more efficient. Also I have to order a lot of equipment and I have keep up with everyone else that is in our facility and we use e-mail for that. So I’d probably have to say it was a computer. Although, I will also say that we have a piece of equipment called a spectrophotometer and that allows us to run water samples and be able to see what the water quality is like in the tanks; whether we have ammonia or nitrite/nitrate. We can check our pH’s, so that’s a very important tool for us.
Q: Are you an avid reader, and what are you currently reading?
A: I am. Right now I’m reading Steinbeck’s “The Log From the Sea of Cortez,” which was recommended to me by a friend and its about collecting in the Sea of Cortez, which is something I kind of enjoyed when I was going through college — field trips and collecting.
Q: What role models have you had in your professional life?
A: Well, Jacques Cousteau of course. I don’t know whether to kiss him or hit him. Sometimes this is a tough little job. If it hadn’t been for his underwater photography and stuff I think that really sparked my imagination. It has made for quite a ride, it really has. One of my first curators, Nelson Herwig, wrote the book on fish disease and I’ve always admired him and I worked for a guy named Ray Davis who brought the whale sharks into Atlanta and I learned a lot from him. He’s over in China right now putting together a new aquarium over there. A really big one, too and it’s going to have whale sharks too.
Q: If you could go anywhere, where would you go and why?
A: Well, there’s two places really. The first thing would be to go to the South Pacific and do all the diving and snorkeling I could until I just got sick of it and I’m not sure how long that would take me. It would quite a while I’m sure. But I’d also like to go to Europe and see how people live over there and see some of the classic landmarks of our time.
Q: How did you find yourself in your current role?
A: Even before I was a paper boy I had a thing for, well first goldfish, and then my parents got me an aquarium so I’ve been taking care of aquariums since I was 8. And during high school and college I started in salt water because of the beauty and brilliance of the salt water fish and particularly the tropical salt water. At some point I decided I wanted to take a career in that direction. The calling card for that is a degree in marine biology or in biology in general and so I went to Texas A&M and got a degree in marine biology. I’ve been very privileged to follow that dream.